Our economic recovery has, in the opinion of most economists, become self-sustaining, but remarkably slow relative to former recoveries. Job growth has been a primary drag and remains exceptionally slow to recover. Ben Bernanke, during the first-ever press conference following a Federal Open Market Committee meeting said “the labor market is improving gradually. We would like to make sure that that is sustainable. The longer it goes on, the more confident we are.” Economic growth slowed to 1.8% in the first quarter, following at 3.1% rate in the fourth quarter of 2010.

In perhaps the most audacious and partisan verbal tempest so far as we approach the looming budget storm, Treasurer Geithner said “what I want to make sure they [italics added, referring to Republicans] don't do is take us too far into June, take us too close to the edge.” Amplifying those remarks, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said any Republican effort to hold out on a debt-ceiling vote for deficit-reduction measures “could in fact tank the global economy.” He added “it would be foolhardy to play chicken with the full faith and credit of the United States of America. It is simply too risky.”

Based on the rhetoric flying around Washington, it seems unlikely that meaningful budgetary reform will come in the next two years. In his Wednesday campaign-like speech Mr. Obama stated his intention to raise taxes more clearly than any other part of his plan. Just as clearly, House Republicans claim that tax increases are dead on arrival in their chamber. It even turns out that $38.5 billion ‘savings’ in government spending, triumphantly celebrated by Boehner, Reid, and Obama, will only cut this year’s deficit by $352 million according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Don’t these guys get it that Americans are fed up with reckless spending, political posturing and outright lies?

Stocks continue to rise in the face of 30-month highs for oil. Gold hits a new record at 1,468.90 and Treasuries are declining. Bulls find new reasons to buy each day, despite the challenges of Japan, the Middle East, and European member states, and rising commodity prices to name but a few.

Indications are that the US economy maintains sufficient momentum to avoid a double dip recession. Non-farm payrolls rose by 216,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate inched down from 8.9% to 8.8%. Domestic stocks, as measured by the MSCI US Broad Market Index, were up 5.8% for the first quarter of the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 6.4% for its best first-quarter since 1999. The Fed, eyeing economic strength might be thinking about increasing rates sooner rather than later as well. Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota said it was “certainly possible” for interest rates to be raised by more than half a percentage point this year. 

Markets are reacting positively to a rare concerted intervention in the currency markets by the world’s biggest economies, known as the G7, to stem the damaging rise in the value of the yen as well as from news that Libya’s government announced an immediate cease-fire and end to all military operations across the country. A strong yen makes Japanese exports much more expensive on world markets. As a primary part of Japan’s economy, exports will be crucial to the re-building of their economy. Additionally, Japan’s decade-long struggle with deflation will be made even worse by a strong yen. 

Do you ever wonder if you will have enough money to see you through the surprises and challenges ahead? Or, if you are blessed with abundance, do you ever think how nice it would be to quantify your surplus, find purposes for it, to enjoy the benefits today; rather than leaving it to the next generation to fight over? Truth is, most people have no idea whether their plans are over- or under-funded, or by how much. They spend most of their time worrying about return.

The unemployment situation in the US appears to be improving marginally with the latest government release of data. Employers added 192,000 workers in February and the unemployment rate unexpectedly declined to 8.9%, the lowest level since April 2009. During his Congressional testimony this week Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said there were “grounds for optimism” about the labor market in the coming months. 

Mounting problems in Libya sent oil prices over $100, natural gas trading to record highs, and equity prices reeling. The MSCI US Broad Market Index, which represents 99.5% or more of the total market capitalization of all US common stocks was down 3.9% intra-day, but closed down 2.9% for the week as of yesterday. Realization that there is enough oil supply, a number of good earnings reports and today’s news that last year’s economy (despite a downward revision) still grew the best in 5 years has stocks up .6% this morning. 

It was a mixed week for economic data, but a pretty good one for markets. The S&P looks to finish up close to 1% and the 7-10 year Treasury index is up .25% for the week so far.  Manufacturing news and corporate earnings continue strong, but the consumer may be taking a break. And still bouncing along the bottom, jobs and housing showed few signs of recovery.